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Editorial: Tortured justice

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. JBurge  |  AP file photo

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge | AP file photo

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:09PM

When former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge was sent off to prison, that didn’t exactly close the case on police torture in Chicago.

About 100 men say they are languishing in prison as a result of statements extracted through torture by Burge and his Midnight Crew cabal in the 1970s and 1980s.

No one knows how many of those men are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. But we must get to the bottom of those cases — now. The men already have been in prison for decades.

On Tuesday, lawyers from the MacArthur Justice Center and the People’s Law Office filed a class-action petition asking that these men, all African Americans, get a fair hearing. Former Gov. James R. Thompson, former U.S. Attorneys Thomas Sullivan and Dan Webb, former Chicago Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek and other top legal figures filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support.

Three years ago, Illinois set up a special commission to investigate whether police torture sent innocent men to prison. But in an astounding example of indifference, the Legislature this summer let funding lapse, even after the commission completed work on some cases, finding five in which torture claims appeared to be credible.

Earlier this month, at the urging of Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority came up with a $160,000 grant to get the torture commission out of mothballs. But even if a revived commission documents more possible torture cases, the law provides no clear remedy. That’s why the class-action petition needs to go forward.

In the years since these men were sent away, we have learned how Burge’s crew used electric shocks, merciless beatings and mock executions to extract statements. The inmates who say they experienced those horrors may well be telling the truth.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in another case that no convictions may rest even in part on statements obtained through torture.

That’s exactly right. Let’s get at the truth and let justice prevail at last.

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